Crestview senior Damian Helm (15) faces down an LCC defender during the first half of the Knights’ 66-54 win over the T-birds on Friday night in Convoy. Helm led all scorers with 23 points in the contest. (Times Bulletin/Tina Eley)
By John Parent
Times Bulletin Sports Editor
CONVOY — The Crestview Knights came into the game undefeated and ranked second in the state in the initial Associated Press Division IV poll. On Friday night at Ray Etzler Gymnasium, the Knights faced their stiffest test on the young campaign, but came away with a 66-54 victory over the visiting Lima Central Catholic Thunderbirds.
LCC boasted a resume every bit as impressive as that of Crestview, coming in at 8-0 and sporting a number three ranking in Division III’s AP poll. The young T-birds, who start three sophomores, faced an unrattleable opponent in Crestview. The Knights went 14-for-17 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter alone and committed just a dozen turnovers in the contest while shooting 18-for-41 (44 percent) for the game.
“They’re very fundamental on both ends, they’re not going to beat themselves,” LCC head coach Frank Kill noted about Crestview’s team. “They made some plays and shots and that’s what a great team does. There’s a reason they’re ranked number two in the state of Ohio.”
Crestview got on the scoreboard first when senior Damian Helm rattled home a leaner with 6:20 to go in the first quarter. By that point, however, trouble had already begun to set in for the Thunderbirds, as sophomore Tre Cobbs had already picked up two personal fouls. Cobbs would spend the bulk of the first half on the bench and never really got into the flow of the game.
The Knights jumped in front 7-2 on an Isaiah Simerman three-pointer from the top of the arc and Simerman struck again from downtown two minutes later, giving the Knights a 14-11 lead at the end of one quarter of play.
For LCC, standout Xavier Simpson carried the load in the opening quarter, pacing the T-birds with seven points. He would continue to do damage in the second, adding eight more to his total, before the Knights made a concerted effort to deny him the ball after halftime.
“(Simpson) is the fuel that gets our engine running, and when you take the ball out of his hands — I didn’t counter that, and that’s a poor coaching move on my part,” Kill said of the Crestview defensive effort. “They did a great job of denying X early and often, and we didn’t get the ball in the appropriate hands. But we also didn’t get a lot of stops where a rebound could have turned into transition.”
“It was ‘pick your poison’ with Simpson and Martyce (Kimbrough),” said Crestview coach Jeremy Best. “We thought we had to try to take it out of Simpson’s hands. Now, we didn’t always accomplish that, but we made him kind of look around a little bit more sometimes. We tried to cage him in and put it in somebody else’s hands, and throw (LCC) off balance. They’re really hard to guard.”
Despite Simpson’s big first half, the T-bird trailed at the break, 28-26, thanks to a 13-point performance from Helm. The lead was established after the T-birds forced no fewer than four ties in the second quarter, but each time Crestview would answer. If it wasn’t Helm, it was Connor Lautzenheiser, who score inside just before to break to go with his three from the wing to give him five points in the period.
A 2-for-13 performance by the T-birds in the third quarter is what ultimately gave Crestview the breathing room they’d need. The senior, Kimbrough, matched his first-half scoring output with four in the quarter, but his counterpart, Crestview’s Cam Etzler, poured in eight in the period, with six of those coming from the free throw line, where the Knights made their living.
The Knights were 8-for-9 from the stripe in the quarter, part of a 27-for-31 performance for Crestview as a team.
“We didn’t adapt to the officiating,” added Kill. “We still played uncharacteristically out of control and when you want to beat a fundamental team on the offense and defensive end, you’re going to have to play just like them. You’re going to have to play fundamental, and we didn’t play very fundamental tonight.”
The Knights were able to put the game away by draining the bulk of their free throws in the fourth quarter and Etzler and Helm combined to go 18-for-18 from the stripe in the game. Though the T-birds generated a 20-point fourth period, with Kimbrough and Simpson combining for a dozen, they couldn’t cut into the lead and eventually ran out of time.
“The whole night, I saw a look in our kids’ eyes. I thought they were real confident, and that doesn’t mean you’re going to win the game, but we knew what we wanted to do and fortunately tonight it worked out,” noted Best.
“I though we controlled pace, for the most part. When we wanted to go (up tempo), we went, and when we wanted to run something in the half court, we did. We didn’t give up too many quick-change turnovers that (LCC is) so good at. It was a total group effort,” Best remarked.
Score by quarters
LCC 11 15 8 20- 54
Crestview 14 14 16 20- 66
LCC (54) individual scoring
Simpson 19, Kimbrough 16, Cobbs 6, Walton 6, Williams 0, A. O’Connor 0, E. O’Connor 0, White 2, Stewart 7, Taflinger 0, Floyd 0
Crestview (66) individual scoring
Zaleski 9, Etzler 11, Co. Lautzenheiser 6, Helm 23, Bolenbaugh 7, Rickard 0, Simerman 8, Jones 0, Rolsten 0, Gibson 0, Co. Lautzenheiser 0